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Ilion mayor: Opposition caused withdraw of fireman’s convention hosting

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POTSDAM - The mayor of the Ilion said his community lost a regional fireman’s association convention because it wanted to hold the event in July.

Ilion Mayor John P. Stephens said suggestions made by some local officials that the annual convention of Northern New York Volunteer Fireman’s Association was pulled from Ilion because of a conflict with the village’s annual Ilion Days Festival were inaccurate. Mr. Stephens said the village had been planning to hold the convention in conjunction with the festival, to be held the third week of July.

The convention will now be co-hosted by Potsdam and Norfolk from June 6 to 8.

“(The festival) certainly wasn’t a conflict with the convention. It would have made the convention better,” he said.

Mr. Stephens said although Ilion officials had already extensively planned for the convention the fireman’s association leadership began to reconsider Ilion’s plans because the association’s bylaws state the convention must be held during June. After much back and forth, which left Ilion convention planning officials in the dark as to whether they’d be permitted to host the convention they chose to withdraw.

“We weren’t going to spend that money on restaurants and hotels if we weren’t sure we were going to host it,” Mr. Stephens said.

With Ilion out as the host community, there was no site for the 2013 convention, so Potsdam and Norfolk stepped up to co-host the convention.

“Potsdam was offered to host after we were basically screwed-over by the (fireman’s association),” Mr. Stephens said. “We put in an offer (to host), it was approved, and then they came back and said they can’t do that because they can’t break the by-laws.

“They can change the by-laws all the time to adjust for surprises, but the surprise was to us when we found out we wouldn’t be hosting the convention,” Mr. Stephens added.

Fireman’s association First Vice President Anthony Clark said that during the association’s annual meeting in Louisville last June a small group of members raised opposition to Ilion hosting due to what they saw as a conflict with the bylaws. Mr. Clark said Ilion then withdrew its bid to host.

Mr. Clark declined to comment on whether the association’s bylaws may be altered or exempted as Mr. Stephens claimed.

The Ilion mayor believes those members expressed strong opposition to Ilion hosting the convention because of the amount of time, effort and cost of traveling to that village. Located about 12 miles southeast of Utica, Ilion is one of the most southern-lying communities in the association, which includes St. Lawrence, Franklin, Essex, Clinton, Hamilton, Herkimer, Lewis, Oneida, Jefferson and Oswego counties. It’s about a three-hour drive south from Potsdam.

“They don’t care if we have to drive three hours to (the convention in Potsdam and Norfolk), but they care if they have to drive here,” Mr. Stephens said.

He blamed the opposition on a small group within the association that “(does) nothing but complain.”

Mr. Clark feels distance was not the reason for the opposition and said that several years ago the convention was held in Deerfield, roughly 12 miles northwest of Ilion.

Mr. Stephens feels Ilion was hurt by the opposition to their effort to host the convention. The influx of up to 10,000 firemen for the weekend could have pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into the local economy. In addition, the village had already booked hotels rooms and restaurants for the firemen, and Mr. Stephens thanked these local business owners for allowing the to village cancel their reservations without charge.

Mr. Stephens also said the opposition did not come from Potsdam or Norfolk firefighters, and he offered “kudos” to those communities for hosting and ensuring that there would be a convention this year.

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